Friday, March 09, 2007

Not a Disaster At All.

There was a bar I used to go to quite a bit. I won't name it here (Though some may be able to identify it based on what I write here), but it was, once upon a time, a great place to shoot pool and drink from a fairly wide assortment of beers. The crowd was young and energetic, and at the time, I was too. It was the kind of place you could go to even if you didn't leave the house with someone to hang out with--- You were bound to meet up with someone there.

My friend John was one of the bartenders there. One of the regulars was a young black man named Wendell. I never really knew his educational background--- We got along great, but when we hung out together, it was always about the here and now, and never about whatever backstory might have led us to that bar at that moment. But I chose then, as I choose now, to surround myself with bright people. Wendell was a hardworking fellow with a baby on the way, as smart and resourceful as anyone I've ever known.

To pick up extra money when times were lean, Wendell struck up a deal with the bartenders there. They were overworked, and had a tough time cooking the food items customers would order. In return for a share of tips, Wendell would go into the kitchen and cook for them.

He was actually a hell of a cook--- The times he was there were the only times I would dare eat the food there. And any time I did, I had one hell of a meal. I would actually interrupt my pool game when my food arrived--- A meal cooked by Wendell was one that deserved to be eaten with no distractions. I used to encourage him to go to the Culinary Institute so he could get the pedigree to match his talent.

The staff at the bar all loved him. After a few weeks of this arrangment, the head bartender, during a staff meeting, brought up the idea of hiring Wendell on full time.

The owner thought about it for a minute. "No. Not a chance. I hire him, and this bar will be taken over by ni**ers."

It took me a couple of days to find out why half the staff wasn't there the next time I went back--- The ones that stayed on seemed relatively ashamed of the fact that they did, and would tell those that they trusted, in hushed tones, that they were looking for jobs. And once I found out, I never went back.

As much as I would like to say that I'm an older man, and that this happened some time during the seventies, it's just not the case. I'm 34 now, and this happened in 1999 in Memphis, TN, the very city where Dr. King's blood was spilled.

So when I see someone like Glen Dean calling the 1964 Civil Rights Act a "disgraceful infringement on private property rights", I always feel the need to remind people that we are in one of the states that made this necessary. In my own area, entire towns have sprung up that owe their growth, if not their existence, to white flight.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first attempt this nation really made at living up to the words of the Founding Fathers, that all men are created equal. The problem is that there were many who had something to lose from African-Americans being treated as equal. In fact, those very attempts at levelling the playing field are spun by opponents of the Civil Rights Act as "preferential treatment".

I suppose when one race is allowed to dominate the other for nearly 200 years, an attempt at creating a new paradigm of equality does indeed look like preferential treatment. An attempt to say that 12% of the population should have 12% of the jobs when they had maybe 6% feels downright oppressive to the portion of the population that would just as soon keep them at 6%.

That doesn't mean that those who would attempt to hinder that progress deserve to win out, though. And that's ultimately what happens if Title VII went away. Guys like that bar owner become the rule, and not the exception.

And that's something that this white boy would fight to his dying breath.

With every generation, we step further away from the quiet tyranny of unspoken hatred that manifests itself in the economic oppression of people that deserve equal standing with any one of us. All of us are imperfect, but with each generation, we step further away from the ways of our fathers and grandfathers. Blacks and whites, with every generation, view each other less adversarially than the generation before them.

But make no mistake--- We're still generations away from being treated as equals in any way other than the letter of law. And until those old generations die away, we simply cannot take a chance on returning to the darkest days of the American existence.

Update: Glen Dean has posted a response to me here. I'll be answering him shortly.

10 comments:

autoegocrat said...

I've known Wendell for years, we grew up together. When I first met him back in junior high he had a foot-wide blue afro.

We used to work together at a diner not too far from the dive you're talking about, and yeah, he's a mean cook.

I had no idea about that. I won't be returning to that establishment.

Freedonian said...

I don't think it's open anymore. I wish I could say this was what did it to him--- But I think the prick that owned it overextended himself with a second bar.

Blinders Off said...

Thank you Freedonian for having the courage to speak your mind and heart on issues that affect the Black community, reading your words give me hope for my future grandchildren. I believe the day will come when the majority will start judging us by our CHARACTER and not the COLOR of our skin.

Freedonian said...

Thank you, Blinders. While I'm sure there will always be cavemen among us, I truly believe we become more enlightened with each generation that passes.

The further we get from Brown vs. the Board, the better we'll get. I'll give you an example. My father never really hated anyone--- But he grew up in 1940-era Arkansas, where all the black people he met were products of the Plessy v. Ferguson education system--- "Separate but equal" in name only. The black schools had almost zero funding, and there was precious little in the way of a quality education offered in them.

He respected blacks as people, but he grew up in an era where he was never forced to see them as equals. And the miseducation of the black people around him affected how he saw them as a race. He was a product of his times.

I too am a product of my times--- But there was a paradigm shift between his generation and mine (I didn't come along until he was 37). The ramifications of Brown vs. the Board came along right after he graduated. For me, the system set up under Brown vs. the Board had been in place for almost thirty years when I started school.

It's a generational shift. I grew up in a mixed neighborhood, so when I went to school, I saw black kids as my equals, my peers, and my friends. One of the things I loathe the most about the white flight enclaves is that kids growing up in them never have to see the kids around them as I did.

Just as my father was a product of his environment, I was a product of mine.

Thanks, Blinders.

PeskyFly said...

Freed, let me tell you about the bar I was at just last month. It's an old college hangout of mine and since they're open late I sometimes drop by after a WCT show, or on my way back from the theater.

The bar was empty, just me and a couple of drunk, off-duty police detectives who were sitting in a far corner nervously discussing some internal investigation.

The bartender was clearly bored and lonely and after I finished my first beer he offered to keep setting me up for free if I would listen to him--- a weird reversal of the bartender/drunk scenerio. The cheap Scottsman in me couldn't refuse, so he set me up and launched into a diatribe about how he's from up north-- where the "niggers know their place."

I let him ramble on taking mental notes for future writing: an occasion where my improv actor's training really paid off. He set me up a couple more times and never stopped talking about the brown menace. When I got up to leave I left no money on the bar. He asked if I was going to tip, and I answered saying, "you know, my wife's black." A lie, yes, but a good one under the circumstances. In a sweet, non-threatning way I told him I knew the owner (true-- and reasonably well) and would pay for my beers the next time I saw him.

The apologies began to flow, and he followed me to the door trying to convince me he wasn't a racist. Calmly I just repeated his own words back to him.

Freedonian said...

Pesky, that's about the best possible response I can imagine. I used a variation on the theme, "black girlfriend" to shut up a loudmouth once myself.

I'll always find it amazing that the ignorant in this world just assume we're on their side by virtue of skin color.

Blinders Off said...

If there were more who think like you, Pesky, Autoegorat, and other people I know, America could be different. Here we are fighting in Iraq, but yet Democracy is not here for my race and it is slowly diminishing for other races (New World Order is HERE and ALIVE).

I didn’t grow up any different than you; I lived in a diverse community until the seventh grade and white flight became very noticeable in my neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods.

You can never feel the pain and anger of the racism I had to endure from whites in a community, work place, and school. It is worse when you have to endure racism from your own race.

The media is partly the blame for how blacks are stereotyped, but now that we have cable and satellite broadcasting I personally think it is getting better. The light is being shined on other races more today than in the past.

I like many people of my race could have become an angry individual consumed with hate and blame the white man. The truth is NO MAN on this earth is the blame for what happen in one’s life. Life is what you make of it and I believe in turning a negative into a positive and accept responsibility for my actions.

Fortunately, for me I have been bless with the wherewithal to fight injustices when it is inflicted upon me or someone I love. My true happiness is helping others no matter what their race is. There is no better feeling in making a difference in someone’s life no matter how small or large.

I thank you and the others I mentioned for calling it how you see it.

Freedonian said...

Blinders,

I'm truly honored that you think of me that way, and I'm sure Pesky and Auto are too. I will forever find it heartbreaking that your experiences in life have led you to the point that you regard white people who believe in equality are exceptional.

I know exactly what you mean about the media--- I keep thinking back to the days after Katrina where black people were portrayed as "looting" food and white people were portrayed as "finding" food. I don't subscribe to the theory that Bush ignored Katrina because he hates black people--- I think it's his disregard for the plight of poor people overall. But the media, AP in particular, had their veil ripped off at that moment.

Is there a black-centric news broadcast out there somewhere? I'd be interested in seeing it if it exists. I would just like to see how people of all races would be portrayed if blacks were calling the shots.

Thank you, Blinders.

Blinders Off said...

The only media news-cast broadcast I know of was BET, but Ron Johnson sold it and it is not the same. Tavis Smiley who air on PBS is a good talk show source.

Look for an email soon because I want to tell you about a current pain and anger...then you will understand why I think white people who believe in equality is hard to believe and why it is hurtful when you trust it and it was all a LIE.

Freedonian said...

You know, I never even knew BET had a newscast. I used to listen to Smiley's show on NPR.

I thought his show was particularly insightful, and I mourned when he quit. Especially once I heard the replacement, the generically named "News & Notes". I really wish Tavis's show had still been around during Katrina.

I will be looking forward to that email. I'm just sorry that whatever has shaken your faith happened.